We hear lots of different definitions of marriage in the world around us. Some define marriage as a human contract that surrounds a romantic partnership to protect children and spouses from the effects of bad relationships. Others claim that marriage based first and foremost on the fact that a man and a woman form a “reproductive unit” capable of bearing children and those children as well as the dignity as well as the economic and physical security of both parties must be protected. (Cxref: Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George & Ryan T. Anderson,
“What is Marriage?”, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 34)
Even though these descriptions more or less describe certain aspects of marriage. They do so only from a human perspective. While they may be helpful in political and legal discussions which have as their aim the curbing mankind’s sinful rebellion against God, they don’t truly describe God’s institution of Marriage.
Though the church operates within the world, we are not of the world. As such, we give deference not to worldly institutions or to legal and political discussions, but as the Church, we speak the word of God into the culture. While we need to be aware of the political and legal realities of the culture and society in which we live, we do not restrict ourselves to understanding things from a human perspective when God’s Word has spoken and reveals His mind on a matter.
When it comes to the topic of marriage, God’s Word clearly reveals His purposes and intentions. St. Paul teaches the real significance of this union of man and woman that we call, “marriage,” when he describes that relationship in Ephesians 5. There the Holy Spirit reveals through the Apostle Paul that marriage is God’s institution through which a man and a woman become a living witness to God’s loving and creative nature.
Paul points out that the definitional text regarding marriage, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh,” (Gen 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7, Ephesians 5:31), isn’t what we might initially think it is. While marriage is an institution for this world, the Holy Spirit reveals through St. Paul that marriage is not of this world. In commenting on this one-flesh union, Paul says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32).
In these words, the Apostle Paul, who was directly sent by Jesus to teach the Gentile church the truths of God, clearly states that this leaving of father and mother and being united in a “one flesh union,” is not first and foremost about the love and emotions of the two. It is not first and foremost about the begetting and rearing of children. It is not first and foremost an answer to the fact that, “it is not good for man to be alone!” In fact, the statement, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh,” is not first and foremost descriptive of human marriage at all! Rather, God’s statement that, “a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh,” is descriptive of Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Holy Christian Church. It is applied to the human relationship of husband and wife as a reflection of that reality.
Earlier, in his letter to the Church in Ephesus, Paul details the roles and responsibilities of husband and wife in their relationship to one another. Yet, he doesn’t simply list a bunch of rules and guidelines and lay down the law concerning God’s institution of human marriage. Rather, he clearly relates that the contours of a proper the relationship of husband and wife have as their template the relationship of Jesus with the Church.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
– Ephesians 5:25-30
Notice that Paul is speaking to “husbands.” Even though He is speaking to the Christian Church, he does not restrict his speech to “Christian husbands” or “You who are husbands and Christian.”
It is not merely that the relationship of a “Christian husband” to his wife reflects the self-sacrificing love of Christ for the Church, but that the intention of God’s institution of marriage is that each husband would reflect the self-sacrificing love of Christ for His bride, the Church and each wife would reflect the church’s unceasing devotion and submission to Christ by faithfully receiving from their husband the love, care and concern that he has for her. That this doesn’t happen is attributable only to mankind’s rebellious heart.
We can see God’s intention for marriage as a witness of His love to the world exemplified in the prophet Hosea. As a testimony against Israel’s idolatry, Hosea was commanded by God to marry a prostitute. As Israel went “whoring” after the false gods in their land and giving themselves over to them even after God called them from Egypt and settled them in the land of promise, Hosea’s wife would abandon Hosea and return to her former way of life, being intimate with other men. At God’s command, Hosea retrieved her and bring her back to himself. He was to forgive her and cover all the debts she incurred during her waywardness, purchasing her even though she was already his wife. The entire marriage of Hosea the prophet is a lived-out parable of God’s love for His people of promise. The self-sacrificing love of a husband in marriage is to reflect this reality.
In Ephesians, St. Paul makes clear that for husbands, “We love, because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19) also means that we love as He first loved us.
When we understand marriage in this light, even the great “Love Chapter” of 1st Corinthians heard at so many weddings is clearly a testimony to Christ’s love for a fallen humanity that we ought to reflect in our daily lives.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1st Corinthians 13:4-7
This is the picture of God’s patient love for humanity. Though we rebelled, God is patient and kind to us, not giving us what our sin deserves, not even resenting us for our rebellion. Rather, He continues to uphold and sustain humanity – to love and care for us even while we are rude, arrogant, rebellious sinners. And, as a suitor attempts to woo his beloved, God seeks us out to show us His love and care and concern for us going so far as to die for us so that we may be brought near to Him.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And this is the model and template for a husband’s love for his wife so that the husband may witness to the world the unceasing love and care that God has for humanity.
When we understand this about marriage, it becomes clear why this institution is under continuous attack. Sinful human beings by nature rebel at the idea of submitting to the God who loves us and has created us. We wish to strike out on our own and define our own reality. We may want God around to swoop in and make our lives easier and better when we’ve made a mess of things, but as sinners born into a sinful world, we desire that God stay as far away from us as possible. So humanity attempts to hide the reality of God by destroying all those things that testify to His existence and His will for us. And few things do this like marriage does.
As Christians, redeemed by Christ and being made new by the Gospel, it is imperative that we know and understand these things and can speak these truths in the world. It is only the Gospel that can rescue from the decadence and destruction brought about by a relentless pursuit to eject God.
Therefore, while individual Christians exercising their duty to love and serve their neighbor by active participation as citizens and decision makers need to avail themselves of all the knowledge and research into the terrible effects that come about when God’s definition of marriage is trampled under foot and we must all seek to protect and preserve society, the Church itself must resist the urge to hide the Gospel under secular debates about the definition of marriage.
Because the Law of God is written on men’s hearts and can be seen in nature, appeals to “natural law,” do nothing but stir up the inward hate and animosity sinners have against God. It is only the Good News of Christ’s self-sacrifice that rescues wayward human beings that changes hearts and minds, giving them eyes to see God’s love for them that would incorporate them into the body of His bride, the Church.
Moving forward, the Church needs to know, understand, and be able to articulate how fundamentally marriage is God’s institution that witnesses to His own love and mercy toward humanity in Christ. We need to be prepared not only to engage in the secular debate by showing that a lifelong marriage union between one man and one woman is what is best for society and the children of that union. But more importantly, we also need to be able engage in the conversation in such a way that witnesses to the glory and majesty of a Lord who loved us and gave himself up for us, that he might sanctify us, having cleansed us by the washing of water with the word,so that he might present us to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we would be holy and without blemish.”